Playing With Passions

'The Passion of the Christ' shortshrifts Jesus' message

The monumental uproar and controversy generated by Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, is a reminder that there's nothing like religious fervor to inflame passions and obscure reason.

To see any human being relentlessly abused and mercilessly whipped is disturbing enough. But to show the person of Christ victimized that way, the one who millions believe to be the Son of God and the Savior of humanity, is to manipulate the religious sensitivity of the masses.

Will this display bring doubters to Christ? Certainly many conservative Christian clerics believe so; they are milking this film for all it's worth to spread their gospel. In addition to ticket sales, vendors are marketing and selling numerous trinkets and memorabilia to believers caught up in the fervor of faith.

In Passion Plays in the Philippines, actual nails tear into the flesh of the man honored to play Jesus. Throughout Latin America and the Christian world, that venerated role is indeed physically and emotionally painful. It is a drama meant to inflame the passions, and historically these passions have too often been directed against Jews, who for centuries have been punished and blamed for an ancient event for which they have no responsibility.

Gibson chose emotion over enlightenment in his approach to the "greatest story ever told," squandering an opportunity to promote an authentic Christianity.
Given the nature of Passion Plays, Gibson's film has the potential to generate anti-Semitism. But that depends on how Christians and their leaders interpret this drama and redirect the emotional discomfort it engenders.

There are other legitimate reasons to critique Gibson's approach in the telling of Jesus' story. By emphasizing the painful passion of Christ and his sacrifice to cleanse us of our alleged "original sin," there is little room for the fullness of Jesus' message to emerge.

How about Jesus' concern for the poor, and his statement that it's more difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? For Gibson, who spent $25 million of his own money on this glorified Passion Play, this proverb might hit too close to home.

Even more insulting is that Gibson ignores the massive wave of new scholarship on Jesus and His life, times, and disciples. There's a voluminous collection of early Christian writings from which only a chosen few were selected for the New Testament. Based on scientific archaeology and biblical scholarship - especially on pivotal findings from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi texts - we know now that the traditional gospels, written decades after the events, tell only part of the story, and a contradictory one at that.

Guest Column

By Julio Noboa
Had Gibson intended to enlighten his viewers with this new knowledge, he might have shown an accurate portrayal of Mary Magdelene - not as the reformed prostitute she has been falsely maligned to be, but a faithful and trusted disciple of Christ who wrote her own inspired gospel. Gibson could have shown that unlike most religious men of his day, Jesus valued the company of women as spiritual equals, worthy of having a voice in the sacred community.

Gibson could have shown that Jesus was a truly revolutionary rabbi whose example and message had universal appeal beyond the confines of His time, place, and religious traditions.

Instead, Gibson chose emotion over enlightenment in his approach to the "greatest story ever told," squandering an opportunity to promote an authentic Christianity, one that has relevance to the current issues and problems. Reflecting his own reactionary beliefs, Gibson promotes the power of an outmoded, patriarchal Christianity based on blind faith, mindless fervor, and religious intolerance. •

See related story, "The Marketing of Faith" in this issue of the Current.


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